PHILADELPHIA — In the early days of the pandemic, Vishal Shah painstakingly disinfected all of his family’s produce from the grocery store with a disinfectant before bringing it into their West Chester house to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.
His 13-year-old son, Anand, noticed the practice one afternoon and began questioning Shah, the interim vice provost and associate dean of the College of Sciences and Mathematics at West Chester University.
“I was curious to see if the virus was on the fruits and vegetables to begin with,” said Anand, a student at Charles F. Patton Middle School in Kennett Square.
The pair began investigating by taking a look at the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization. Both organizations stated that while it’s possible for COVID-19 to spread via touching and handling of food that has the virus on its surface, it is likely not the main way the virus is spread.
The CDC has also said that washing fruits and vegetables does not guarantee the removal of the virus. But they wanted to confirm that theory, Shah said.
Assured Bio Laboratories in Oak Ridge, Tenn., agreed to test the swabs for the presence of coronavirus at a discounted rate. Of the 140 pieces of produce tested from the stores, only one apple had traces of the virus on its surface. The Shahs concluded that their results supported the current CDC and WHO guidelines that contracting the virus by touching food surfaces is unlikely.
The study was published recently in ACS Food Science and Technology.
“This changed how we handle produce at our house and our relatives’ houses,” Anand said. “The biggest take home message for me was that we can handle produce as we did before the pandemic, but we should wash our hands after handling produce.”